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Is it acceptable for people to take methylphenidate to enhance performance? Yes

BMJ 2009; 338 doi: (Published 18 June 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b1955
  1. John Harris, Lord Alliance professor of bioethics and director
  1. 1Institute for Science, Ethics and Innovation, University of Manchester, Manchester M13 9PL
  1. john.harris{at}

    A drug that can improve your exam results may sound tempting, and John Harris believes that we should embrace its possibilities. Anjan Chatterjee (doi:10.1136/bmj.b1956), however, argues that the dangers have been underplayed

    Many healthy students are thought to use methylphenidate (Ritalin) and other chemical cognitive enhancers to improve academic performance.1 The arguments against their being permitted so to do have not been persuasive.2 The crucial ethical question is whether this is a matter for regret or celebration.

    Ethical dimension

    Suppose a university were to set out deliberately to improve the mental capacities of its students; suppose its stated aims were to ensure that students left the university more intelligent and learned than when they arrived. Suppose they further claimed that not only could they achieve this but that their students would be more intelligent and mentally alert than any students in history. What should our reaction be?

    We might be sceptical, but if the claims could be sustained, should we be pleased? Would we welcome such …

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